Hitting the Books

Bipartisan House members reintroduce Palestinian education bill

The bill requires the State Department to assess the content of Palestinian Authority and UNRWA curricula to monitor for anti-Israel bias

Paul Morigi

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) speaks at a Brookings Institution panel discussion.

A bipartisan group of House legislators reintroduced a bill on Monday calling for a State Department assessment of lesson plans created by the Palestinian Authority and United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). The legislation comes as UNRWA faces criticism for including material that encourages violence and intolerance in its curricula.

The bill was first introduced in late 2019, during the previous congressional session, and was reported out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee without opposition, but failed to reach the House floor before the end of session.

The Peace and Tolerance in Palestinian Education Act was reintroduced this week by Reps. Brad Sherman (D-CA), Lee Zeldin (R-NY), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Brian Mast (R-FL) and David Trone (D-MD).

“Our bill… requires the State Department to issue a report on the curriculum and textbooks used by the PA and UNRWA, including the United States’ diplomatic efforts to encourage peace and tolerance in Palestinian education,” Sherman told Jewish Insider. “The U.S. should review the curricula in both PA- and UNRWA-controlled schools periodically to ensure that Israel is not demonized, and that tolerance, not violence, is being taught to the students in those schools. Our goal is to ensure we have an accurate picture of the curricula and textbooks in PA and UNRWA schools so that any problems can be fixed.”

The bill would mandate annual State Department reports to Congress for 10 years on whether curricula produced by the PA and UNRWA contain “content and passages encouraging violence or intolerance toward other nations or ethnic groups,” what steps the organizations are taking to reform curricula and whether U.S. assistance is directly or indirectly funding curricula containing hateful material.

Sherman told JI that the bill failed to make it to the floor last term due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has slowed legislative progress in the House. But the bill’s backers are optimistic for a better result this term. 

“I find it hard to believe that any real, genuine objection to it can be expected,” said Marcus Sheff, the CEO of IMPACT-se — which monitors the content of school textbooks for compliance with international standards. “From speaking to congresspeople on both sides of the aisle, there is absolute support that [education supporting peace and tolerance] is the education that Palestinian children really need.”

Sherman said that a number of Senate offices have expressed support for the legislation. Sheff told JI that IMPACT-se has been communicating with senators about the legislation as well, and expects the introduction of a Senate companion to Sherman’s bill.

Recent reports from IMPACT-se have found that the Palestinian curriculum, which was modified in 2016 and 2017, still contains material which “incites young people to acts of violence, to jihad and to martyrdom” and “rejects absolutely the possibility of peace,” Sheff said.

The bill’s reintroduction comes on the heels of reports that the Biden administration has quietly allocated more than $100 million in aid to the Palestinians since taking office, after the Trump administration cut off aid to Palestinian Authority.

“Resumption of assistance to the Palestinians, particularly in light of COVID-19, is important,” Sherman said. “The purpose of this bill is to respond to well-founded concerns with respect to the content in PA-produced textbooks, and the use of those textbooks by UNRWA.”

Sheff indicated that the administration’s moves toward resuming aid make the legislation all the more pressing.

“I think that clearly there is an added impetus for this legislation to be in place if indeed there is going to be a resumption of aid to the Palestinian Authority and to the schools,” he said.

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